Traveling to the U.K. with school children – tales of isolationism

For years I have travelled regularly with pupils from the where I work in the Netherlands to the UK.  In recent times these have been groups of around 100 children and eight or so teachers for an intensive week of bonding this large party of twelve-year-olds as a group, immersion in the English language, building a sense independence (for many a first trip away from home) and a first taster for many of a culture different to their familiar Dutch background.  There is so much to win from this intensive five days away from home each autumn.

COVID has of course thrown many obstacles in the way these last two years.  Such trips simply haven’t been possible to organize.  But as a school we are waiting for our chance to come again, and surely with time, it will.  But through the thick mist of Corona, in the way of so many educational activities at the moment, we catch glimpses of how the post Brexit world has changed the familiar playing field of our school trips to the U.K. The view that we are getting is one of absurdly complex regulations and requirements. The Guardian article below expands on this, and how the flow that for as long as I can remember has become a thing of the past.

Guardian article end of December 2021

Whatever your opinions may have been about Brexit, education opportunities have turned out to be a serious loser in the new scenario. Whether like my school you are trying to take children to the U.K., or maybe you are a young British person longing to spread your wings and pursue educational opportunities in mainland Europe, or perhaps one traveling in the opposite direction looking to experience British perspectives. There are undoubtedly many other educational losers to be found here.  It is very difficult to see where exactly the educational winners are.

Like the Guardian article says,

Morag Anderson of ETSUK, another British homestay company, said the government’s stance was short-sighted. “Give me a child at 12 years old on a school trip to the UK,” Anderson said, “and I give you a future higher education student, employee, researcher, entrepreneur, tourist – with family and friends … And a future parent, encouraging a future child to travel, work and study in the UK. Once this cycle is interrupted, there is no going back.”

I was very definitely not in favour of Brexit. It felt like the work of political opportunists pushing forward arguments that suited their agendas, and failing to see the broader consequences, consequences that now a year on, are becoming only clearer in a range of sectors.

In education our job is to deliver understanding, insight, and awareness in a variety of fields. Experiencing other cultures, societies and people is part of this.  In this regard Brexit has brought increased and maybe, in our case, insurmountable bureaucracy.  How can the depriving our young people of the chance to broaden their educational experience and their perspectives on the world be a step in the right direction?

A week is a long time in politics…what are the opportunists up to seven days later?

I’ve been writing the following post off and on, in odd moments during the last week. There’s been a lot to take in!

spiderman

Friday 1 July 2016

I never intended my blog to get too political in its content, but sometimes it is difficult to avoid. A week ago I wrote of a Brexit campaign dominated by ‘opportunists and second hand car salesmen’. I stand by that, and in particular by the ‘opportunists’ part. Boris Johnson has been shown to be a political chameleon interested only in his own ego and the climbing of political ladders, constantly repositioning himself to achieve that next rung.

It’s strange then to see him stabbed in the back by one of his own. Loyalty to ideals and individuals seems to be in short supply at the political top. I suspect that might actually be one of the greatest problems the political class has to face up to in these turbulent times. Integrity and credibility in our representatives and their actions are so desperately needed right now.

Chief back stabber yesterday was Michael Gove. In a rapid switch he took Boris Johnson out leaving him limp and deflated, like a week old party balloon. However, with this being much more an educational sort of blog generally, it is perhaps worth reminding ourselves of how Gove left his previous job as Education secretary.

Although I don’t work in British education, (I work over the North Sea in Dutch state education) I do know many who do and followed Gove’s tenure through the media. On the day that he left the department of education the Guardian newspaper published an interesting article where an array of educationalists expressed a diversity of opinions. There is still a long way for Gove to go in his bid for the political top job, but the article does provide some interesting background reading.

https://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/jul/22/michael-gove-legacy-education-secretary

Tuesday 5 July 2016

Four days on, and confusion continues to reign. Michael Gove doesn’t, at least for now seem to have benefitted from any great springboard effect from elbowing Johnson out of the way. In fact backstabbing actually doesn’t seem to go down too well with your political peers it would seem.

I lose track of the number of times that I have been asked in the last week or two for my opinion on the situation. It would seem that being British and living in the ‘other bit’ of the EU has suddenly made me something of a curiousity and an expert in opinions.

This has extended to the classroom too. The pupils I teach have also on occasions been prompted to ask my opinion and to explain my point of view. It is here that I become most frustrated and infuriated with the politics of the last weeks. You see, in education we spend a great deal of time and effort instilling in our pupils qualities such as:

  • Taking responsibility for your own actions
  • Understanding that what you do has an effect on others
  • Being consistent and showing integrity in your own actions
  • Understanding that working together is a crucial social skill to learn
  • If you find yourself in a position of power or leadership, you have to be prepared to take on new responsibilities

I could go on but I’m sure that you get the picture.

I have enormous problems politically with the whole Brexit campaign, but arguably I more enraged by the actions of the political leaders involved. What message can teachers give to their pupils about the behaviour of these so called leaders as one after the other turns and walk away.

“With great power comes great responsibility”, whether you attribute the quote to Voltaire, Churchill or Spider-Man the message is simple.  If you take stances that lead you into a position of power, there is a type of behaviour and integrity that goes hand in hand with that position. This is the message I would want to teach; indeed, I think most in the teaching profession would stand by it. It is hugely regrettable that a significant group in the British political elite have displayed such arrogance and contempt for their position as role models for young and old in recent weeks.

Brexit, used car salesmen and opportunists – an educational view from Europe

I left The UK more than twenty years ago. Not because I didn’t like it there, but because I had a Dutch girlfriend, the Maastricht treaty had just been signed and this interesting opportunity just came along. It wasn’t always easy, certainly dealing with the bureaucracy in the early years was complex and at times, less than a pleasure. But now, all that time later, I have absolutely no regrets. I have, for as much as it matters, dual nationality and I feel integrated into society. If you asked me if I feel more British than Dutch, then I would still say yes, I feel more British. Your formative years as a child, teenager and young adult, are it would seem, just that, very formative.

referendumWorking in education it is a privilege to play your small part in helping steer young people through these influential years and giving them some extra baggage and vision as they step out into the adult world. At the school where I work we make great efforts in broadening the international perspectives of our pupils, helping them see and understand wider contexts.  We organise trips abroad, exchanges with other countries and work experience placements that sometimes take the pupils quite literally to the other side of the world.  This is my Dutch educational context, but there are educational institutions all over Europe working along the same lines. The message is very much, ‘the world is your oyster’. With this as background it is very easy to see why the younger voters in Britain have been so despondent about the result of the referendum.

This week I have been asked so often for my thoughts on the whole Brexit debacle. I have watched from a distance with increasing disbelief. On Thursday night I was genuinely starting to believe that the remain campaign had done just enough. But no, headed by a group of opportunists behaving like secondhand car salesmen throwing their promises around a Pandora’s box has been levered open. What were the voters hoping that they discovered inside, a sort of nostalgic 1950s view of the country that never really existed?

There is clearly a very long way to go in this complex situation, and it does seem apparent that the likes of Boris Johnson and Michael Gove might just be starting to realise just how complex. A poison chalice? Maybe, time will tell.

This week, when I get back to school I will doubtless be asked again for a perspective as one of two token ‘Brits’ on the teaching staff. I will talk about my bafflement at the behaviour of the politicians and my feeling of despair at the outcome. But above all the insular, inward turned message it gives. The world is a complex place, with difficult issues on any numbers of levels. It needs and requires cooperation and understanding, not distancing yourself when the going gets tough.  My teaching I hope reflects this stance. I want my pupils to feel engaged and that they have a place and a constructive relationship in the broader world.  Maybe if you plough through the statistics there are reasons for hope, a more open minded youth vote may seem to suggest it. But departure from the EU restricts perspectives, limits choices and does little to help young people find their place and their voice in a broader world. I don’t want the opportunity that I had, and took, to belong to the past.